Who among us especially those living through 1970s and 1980s have not faced bureaucratic hurdles while getting our official papers made? So, when a man declared dead in papers tries to prove he is alive, it can only take ages, 19 years to be exact. Well, that in nutshell is the story of Kaagaz based on a real person Lal Bihari Mritak. Only as this biographical tale takes off, much appears dated and not just the fact that the story begins somewhere in 1977.
Certainly with Pankaj Tripathi playing the lead character, the histrionics department is in safe hands. Tripathi, being the capable actor he is, does put heart and soul into his part of this band-master whose zeal to prove that he is alive and kicking knows no bounds. At the root of the problem are greedy relatives who have usurped his land. And this is where a part of the problem lies. But for Tripathi the casting of other actors is on weak ground. Even Mita Vashisht as politician Asharfi Devi does not count for much. Sure the director Satish Kaushik makes his presence felt as a lawyer and even turns sutradhar to take us through the events in the life of Lal Bihari Mritak, Bharat Lal, in the film.
But the drama that makes this Mritak contest elections, kidnap a child and even take out his funeral procession don’t create enough dramatic tension in the film. Thus what could have been a biting satire on the way our inefficient and corrupt system works soon begins to ring dreary if not hollow. Without a doubt, the story here needs to be told, but in its cinematic adaptation does not pack enough punch. The sting and zing reverberate only occasionally.
As viewers we have a natural affinity towards stories of underdogs. Here though our sympathies do lie with the lead protagonist, we don’t quite feel for him as strongly as we ought to, even when he is beaten up by his adversaries and treated rather cruelly by the government officials. In the final game we know he will come up trumps but before the film reaches it logical and expected finale, your attention wavers. Tripathi tries his best to carry the narrative on his strong shoulders. But that clearly is not enough to keep you hooked. The film with its heart in the right place may have worked on paper but in its execution it gets lost, just as the proof Lal Bihari Mritak is looking for to substantiate his very much alive status. Rather, the last few seconds of the film that depict the real person and his mission of bringing the ‘dead’ to life are more inspiring than the entire film put together. Streaming on Zee5, watch it only for Tripathi.
On cinematic parameters the film falters more than it scores and turns out to be rather simplistic retelling of the story of the man who took on the system and had the gumption to work towards his endeavour through a span of 19 years. Even today, through Mritak Sangh, Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People, he helps out others sailing in the same boat. An uplifting example indeed, only the film does not match up the highs of his reality.